A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

What ‘quiet’ will cost: $700K in Covid cash

Written March 8th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

This is the rail crossing on Millersburg Drive, where a no-horn “quiet zone” is being planned.

Not being bothered by a locomotive sounding its horn, how much is that worth? It’s worth $700,000 in federal Covid-relief funds, according to state and Linn County officials.

While I was riding the bike around Millersburg on Tuesday afternoon, I paid a visit to the point where the old Oregon Electric rail line crosses Millersburg Drive, just outside the town’s western city limit.

That’s the grade crossing where planning is under way to establish a “quiet zone” where train engineers would not have to blast their locomotive’s horn to warn of a train’s approach.

The Portland & Western Railroad now runs the line, operating freight trains.

On Feb. 14, the Linn County Board of Commissioners authorized the county roadmaster to accept a $700,000 grant to make the quiet zone possible.

The money comes from the American Rescue Plan, one of the Covid-relief laws passed by Congress. Officials said the grant for the quiet zone was steered to the county by state Sen. Sara Gelser-Blouin, D-Corvallis, at the request of a resident near the crossing.

The money must be spent by the end of June 2024.

I checked with Bob Melbo of ODOT-Rail. He told me creating a quiet zone is a federal process which in this case appears to be in the early stages.

“The Federal Railroad Administration decides what is needed in order to nullify the federal requirement that the locomotive horn be sounded as a train approaches an at-grade crossing,” Melbo told me by email last month. “So far, it seems no preliminary design has yet been created for this crossing.”

Here is the rest of his report:

Representatives of the FRA, Linn County, Portland & Western Railroad and ODOT had an on-site diagnostic meeting at the crossing on July 21, 2022, and it was noted by ODOT that a current vehicular traffic count was needed as the one in ODOT’s database was from 2003 and recorded 149 vehicles per day. 

“P&W said the train count was 4 per day, which was double what ODOT had in its database from 1993 when the line was being operated by BNSF Railway.  The trains don’t run on any particular schedule. 

“The diagnostic team noted that the roadway slope on both sides of the track didn’t conform to FRA guidelines and would need to be corrected as part of the project.

“Insofar as I’ve been able to determine, the improvements necessary to establish a QZ at this location haven’t yet been decided.  However, the typical QZ crossing has four-quadrant crossing gates, meaning that there is a standard crossing gate mechanism (bell and flashing red lights with crossbuck all mounted on a mast with a barrier arm that lowers across the road) on all four corners of the intersection.  This is to preclude a motorist from going around the end of a lowered gate arm by swerving into the opposing traffic lane…

“Whatever winds up being proposed for Millersburg Drive will have to be approved by the FRA before the project goes forward.  It sounds like Linn County is just getting a head start on the funding while the project is being designed.”

The roadmaster and other Linn County officials told me they didn’t know who asked for the quiet zone at Millersburg Drive.

Chances are that person will still hear noise when a train goes by. The bells that will be required at the crossing are pretty loud. They keep ringing as long as the gates are down.

And the horns will still sound the required number of times at crossings on Dever-Conner Road, 1.5 miles to the north, and Conser Road, 1.2 miles to the south. (hh)

13 responses to “What ‘quiet’ will cost: $700K in Covid cash”

  1. MarK says:

    ONE person complains and they want to spend $700,000 in TAXPAYERS money??? I’m sure the tracks were there when the people moved in. What did they expect??? We’re living in awfully crazy times!

  2. Hartman says:

    One person complains and we are popped for 700K? Sounds like too much White Privilege.

  3. thomas earl cordier says:

    I’m sure if a vote were taken, majority would not approve spending $700k of their money for such a trivial noise abatement. Another example of the 1% driving the train–pun intended. Our three County commissioners should withdraw the grant request.

  4. khs says:

    This will also take down the cases for possible accidents, so I think $700000 is cheap for a human life.

  5. Craig B. says:

    Here’s my take: I’ll be shocked if the plan goes through. I live in Corvallis near P&W’s “Westsider” line that runs along 99W. Normally, the train horns aren’t a bother. But, on a summer day with the windows open, at around 3am, there is a certain P&W train that will occasionally work its way through town. One engineer, apparently, has a “thing” about blowing the horn persistently for well beyond the normal, FRA recommended 2 long, 1 short, 1 long blast. I’ve counted upwards of 20 to 25 seconds for that fourth blast as the train transitions the grade crossing. I tried to gain public support for a QZ to be established. Even wrote the city council. Not enough public support and the city council never responded. And, some even like the “train whistle”. (whistle?… it’s an air horn) At 3am?? Really? Sigh.

    Many cities have QZ’s where the FRA exempts train operators from having to blow the horn through residential zones. Most crossings have ample warnings obviating the need for the train horn. I don’t have a problem with QZ’s, as it seems to be a reasonable compromise, but then again as MarK says, the tracks were there first and one has to wonder where those tax dollars could be better spent.

  6. Donald Janes says:

    What does a $700,000.00 train Quiet Zone have to do with COVID Relief?? That money is supposed to be for Covid related costs! Just another governmental mismanagement of funds.

    • MarK says:

      Agreed, but it really doesn’t matter. Regardless of which bucket it comes from, originality it came out of your pocket and mine (taxpayers).

  7. Anony Mouse says:

    I feel so much comfort knowing that government is responding appropriately to the public emergency caused by the Covid pandemic.

    This is a feature of big government, not a bug.

    My heart swelled with pride after reading this article. Thanks, Hasso.

  8. Cathy L. says:

    All of the residents that live along Water Ave downtown Albany have to listen to the trains blowing their horns at every block two to three times a night as they travel down the middle of the street. Many of us have complained and requested a quiet zone but were told that City of Albany made a deal with the rail road and nothing can be done. Then one person complains in Millersburg and they get $700,000. This is not fair!

    • Matthew Calhoun says:

      Oooohhhh “a deal”. Tell us about this secret government conspiracy. Who’s the source? Spill the tea, Cathy!

  9. Larry B says:

    Money spent by June 2024? The morons at city hall and UP, here in Eugene, have been working on a quiet zone for what seems like years. We also know that the feds work slowly at most projects, as they have regulations they are suppose to follow, wink wink. Bottom line Eugene still has horns blasting away, in town, and still haven’t seen any upgrades to crossings.

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